Jokkmokk Winter Market and Conference

Anthropology Research Team guest and Fulbright Grantee to Finland Paul R. Burgess tells about his experience at the Jokkmokk Winter Conference and Winter Market, Jokkmokk, Sweden.

Welcome to Jokkmokk; in Sweden’s northernmost county, a wonderful village, with under 3,000 people, at any time other than the first week of February. This is when the village surges with up to 40,000 people. Why? All to experience a 407 year long tradition; the Jokkmokks marknad.

The market has been preceded by a ‘Winter Conference’ for the past five years, focusing on social and scientific issues in the Arctic. The conference aims to provide a forum to discuss issues in the far-north, and a platform to influence decision makers. This year various government and industry officials were present to watch research presentations, and hear the voices of the people.

Performance venue and night-time bar.

Visitors come to the market to buy a wide range of goods: from wool sweaters, fur pelts, hand-made knives, Sami duodji, to goods not otherwise easily available in an isolated village the rest of the year: cables and wire, an array of kitchen utensils, other mass manufactured items, Cambodian cuisine, German sausage, doughnuts, and more. This may surprise some visitors, but the reality is the market does not all but bend to a tourist’s wish. There are local people here who use, need, or appreciate these products. Hand-made leather or plant-fiber ropes are often practical; but their practicality and durability seem to only go so far.


I found very interesting at the conference discussions of ‘Sami identity’, and the opportunity to speak with Sami youth. As tourists are making up a larger and larger portion of visitors, the goods that they buy come into question. As many Sami handicrafts, traditional and modern, are for sale, one wonders what is appropriate to buy and wear? The gakti (main tunic-like clothing, covering chest and arms), hats, shoes, jewelry…? Opinions of course differ, as one cannot expect an identical Sami voice. The sale of handicraft, or duodji, has high economic value, and makes a livelihood for many. The Sami Education Center had exhibition and stall space for current and prior students. One stall sold woolen felt by the meter for those wishing to sew their own designs, others ranged from traditional products of leather, wood, and reindeer bone, to modern interpretations of the pea-coat and sport jacket; examples of global influence and style preference. A sense of pride in tradition (and evolving tradition) and craftsmanship was certainly felt from the vendors.

Some have put forward an idea of the Sami community as ‘imagined or created’, as the Sami are a group of people native to four current nations, who will not necessarily ever interact with or know each other in their lifetime. (B. Anderson) The validity of this argument is debated, but events like this conference and market, bringing many Sami together from near and far, certainly serve to unite.

One thought on “Jokkmokk Winter Market and Conference

  1. Paul touches on a hotly debated topic: the imagined communities, the invented traditions and so on. Ultimately, a lot of this seems to be coming from a sort of research arrogance too. How appropriate is it that we researchers come from outside and decide what is ‘authentic’ and what is ‘artificial’ and ‘invented’? After all, the imagination of a community may be the strongest means to unite people and really start acting collectively. Our former Max Planck colleague Alexander King has extensively theorised on that, and surely a lot of it is in his recently published book here (,674798.aspx) . If I remember right, his argument was that e.g. ‘staged’ culture is not less authentic than lived experience out on the tundra. Because people enacting their traditions on stage create something they can relate to. On the other hand, especially among the Sami we know that there have been huge conflicts about abuse of tangible cultural property, e.g. clothing designs, etc. The chapters by Trond Thuen ( and Thomas Hylland Erkisen ( analyse this problem very carefully. Reading recommended!

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